Having a family member in prison is more common than you think. According to the American Sociological Association, nearly half (45%) of Americans have had an immediate family member incarcerated. That is a lot of mothers, fathers, siblings and children of people with a loved one behind bars. 

It takes quite a toll on the person who has a relative in prison. According to a recent study called Exposure to family member incarceration and adult well-being in the U.S., it was found that people who have an incarcerated or formerly incarcerated family member tend to have poorer health than people who don’t have a family member who has been incarcerated.

The research found this group of people has an estimated 2.6 years shorter life expectancy than those with no family members in prison. This statistic stood strong even when it was adjusted for demographic characteristics like race, household income, gender, and age.

Clearly it is not easy to have a family member in prison, but it’s even harder to deal with the financial hardship that comes with it. According to a report, when a person goes to prison almost 65% of families have trouble paying for basic necessities such as food and housing. Attorney fees, court fees, bond and restitution payments really add up. This contributes to almost 85% of people coming out of prison with criminal-justice debt. 

If you’re struggling to make ends meet, there are a few things you can do to get through this tough time. Here are a few ideas to help you get started:

Gather Information

Step number one of handling the financial hardship of having a family member in prison is to gather information. This includes understanding the incarcerated family member’s financial situation, such as what bills need to be paid and what assets and debts the family member has. 

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It’s vital to have a plan in place to deal with bills and finances if a family member in prison cannot pay them. Some organizations can help with this, such as the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys. You should also consider tools like a debt consolidation calculator to see how long it will take to pay off that family member’s debt. 

Set up a Plan and Stay Organized

Since you’ll be handling finances without your loved one, you need to create a plan for how you’ll manage household finances and create a system for how you’ll stay organized. Not only will you need to deal with your regular expenses, but there will also be attorney fees, court costs, potential restitution, etc. 

You’ll also need to keep on top of appointments with attorneys and know what progress is being made on appeals, parole, etc. It’s unfair to leave this burden all on your shoulders, but hopefully, it’s only a temporary solution and will get easier over time. 

Create a Budget

Creating a budget can be difficult when having a family member in prison. You may have to make some tough decisions about how much money you can spend on your own needs and how much you can allocate to your loved one’s needs. You may also have to adjust your spending habits to account for the fact that your loved one will likely be unable to work while they’re in prison but will also need money for the commissary. 

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If you’ve never used a budget before, it’s easy enough to get started. Simply list your expenses and balance them against your income. Ideally, you want to have everything balance out to $0 or have more money left over at the end of the month. If you’re coming up short, you’ll need to either cut expenses or find ways to earn additional income through something like a side hustle, a second job, or selling off things you don’t use. 

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Contact Financial Institutions

If you’re experiencing financial hardship because one of your family members is in prison, you may want to consider contacting financial institutions, such as banks and creditors. Financial institutions can help you manage your finances and may be willing to provide you with additional assistance. You may also want to consider getting a financial advisor or another resource to help you understand your options and make the best decisions for your situation.

The Bottom Line

Financial hardship is never easy to face, especially in the midst of grief. Remember, though, that you’re not alone. There are resources, such as nonprofit and government organizations, banks, and advisors that are available to help you get through this difficult time.